I’m about to commit literary suicide.
I didn’t like Wuthering Heights. But I do have some excuses:
First, have you ever tried to introduce a movie to someone who missed the initial frenzy that the movie has produced? For example, I forced my friend Kristina to watch The Princess Bride while we were in high school, not realizing that most of the joy of the movie comes from the countless viewings, the inside jokes, the mimicry that ensues in popular conversation. Needless to say, she sat with her jaw hanging open most of the time, totally mirthless. That’s how I feel about Wuthering Heights. I tried to read it earlier, truly I did. Once, in high school, sleeping in my sister’s bed one night I leaned over and saw the book on her shelf. I was so creeped out by savage dogs in the first chapter that I put it away for years. Later, the summer after my freshman year of college, I took it with me to my secretarial job, where I sat reading for hours between phone calls. Even under the numbing hum of florescent lights, with people walking back and forth in front of my desk, I started to get jumpy. The engraved illustrations alone make Tim Burton look like Anne Geddes. So I put it away again. When I finally got the guts to push through to the end this year, I’d already heard so many opinions and formed so many assumptions of my own that I felt disoriented in the actual reading of it. I kept thinking, “So is this when this happens?” or “But I thought she was like this.”
Secondly, I started out listening to the audio book. This has been widely successful before, however, I listen to the free LibreVox Recordings and it turns out that just anyone can record herself reading a book and post it. My reader read so slowly that I found myself circling my hands, nodding vigorously, anything to speed her up. Also, her voices were just terrible! Every girl was whiny and every man sounded like something from the bowels of hell. Halfway through I ditched my iPod in favor of the paper variety and things improved drastically. But I can’t be sure that I ever truly recovered.
So if you’re totally offended by my forthcoming review, just look back at these two excuses and write off my opinion without a second thought.
Wuthering Heights is a bitter love story, a hellish romance. Emily Brontë wrote the story with an ingenuous premise: there are no protagonists, only antagonists, whom you can love or hate as you wish. Heathcliff, a gypsy orphan, is adopted into a family riddled with jealousy, selfishness, crudeness and isolation. His only solace is the friendship of the young girl Catherine. They form an unlikely bond and spend their childhood roaming the moors, planning elaborate pranks, and harrassing each other and everyone around them. As they near adulthood, they sense their emerging love, but their quarrels and selfishness soon lead Katherine to make a rash decision that tears them apart forever. Heathcliff is mad with bitterness and his revenge does not die down until everyone, including himself, is consumed.
Such a lovely story.
Now, I am a big fan of classic literature. I swoon over Dickens, James, Austen, Stevenson, and Scott. I adore the language, the endless descriptive paragraphs, the ethical foundations, the epic plotlines. But with classic literature comes some things that you have to overlook. Let’s face it: if Les Miserables landed on some guys desk at HarperCollins, it would never make it past the first edit. In my opinion, Wuthering Heights carries with it all of the bad characteristics of classic literature and none of the good. The language is flowery, no concreteness. It’s preachy, but puts the words in the mouths of the characters you like the least. The plot winds and twists without any real direction. I never knew where I was going, what I wanted or even didn’t want to happen.
Not only that, but the entire story takes place in the form of narration. Literally, the first-person voice of the book asks a maid to sit down and tell him a story, and that story is the bulk of Wuthering Heights. You’re never in the moment, everything has already taken place, and nothing is told in the voice of the characters who actually take center stage. Only once or twice does Brontë even make use of “the letter” as a writing tool to get us into the minds of the characters, something that Austen uses to such productive ends. Everything happens apart from you as the reader, as though you were touching it with a stick, or hearing it from the next room.
Honestly, I’m beginning to suspect that Wuthering Heights has only sustained itself so long as a classic based on the merits of Emily Brontë’s sister, Charlotte, who turned out the brilliant and beautiful Jane Eyre.
Every time I picked up this book to read, I started to feel depressed and my feelings were significantly darker on putting it down. I’m glad I’m finished. Please, oh please, tell me what is so great about this book?